I wonder how many people make the connection between climate change and human health. A few weeks ago, I was part of a large remote audience for the National Academy of Medicine’s meeting. The prestigious science academy leaders outlined the three current, global, existential threats to human health: the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and racial injustice. They explained that the efforts to address these threats must be global, multi-year, impactful, and collaborative. The plans and actions also require governmental support and policies. Members of the academy spoke of the need for better science/medicine communications with the greater community. On both the individual and organizational levels, experts have not adequately conveyed the human health consequences associated with climate change. As a result of these recent reflective discussions, we (the general public) should be hearing more on this topic from this impressive body of experts moving forward if we choose to listen.
The human health consequences of climate change fall into several groups, including air pollution and allergens, water-borne diseases, water resources and food supplies, mental health, and environmental refugees. These categories do not even consider the furious natural disasters that have been and will continue to occur worldwide, all of which lead to the deaths and dislocation of people. Analyses show that substantial climate change mitigation strategies will save millions of lives each year. Another significant benefit of addressing climate change is enormous economic savings. The direct economic benefit is the lower price of clean energy (which will continue to decline), and the indirect benefits are inhuman and environmental health savings.
The current pandemic is an example of how scientists’ mobilization for a common cause leads to tremendous, rapid scientific advancements for the common good, in this case, therapies, diagnostics, public health measures, and eventually a vaccine. We also realize the importance of effective communication of science by the science/medical community and responsible leadership. Indeed, society must be willing to heed the advice of scientists. When faced with pains and illnesses, people seek science/medical experts, a toothache, hearing loss, tainted water, inadequate electronic devices, etc. Tackling the most critical health threats requires the same level of respect for science. Mobilization of climate scientists has been taking place for decades, but the efforts to use the science have not been as strong. Does this mean we lack the desire to ensure care for one another? In the words of Pope Francis, “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.” Honestly, when we come together to solve problems, the outcome can be incredible. Let’s do all we can to address COVID-19, climate change, and racial injustice.
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work